Laura W. Murphy,
Director, ACLU Washington Legislative Office
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May 11, 2010

By now, most everyone has heard about Arizona’s new law requiring police to demand to see documentation from anyone they stop whom they suspect is in the country illegally. What this really means is that people in Arizona will be forced to “show their papers” simply for looking or sounding “foreign.” These draconian police tactics are more than just offensive and discriminatory — they’re unconstitutional. The law will result in harassment based on race, appearance, and language, carrying an echo of the Jim Crow South. America has fought too hard against racially divisive policies to allow this law to go forward.

The American Civil Liberties Union plans to challenge the constitutionality of the law in court, believing it is state-sanctioned racial profiling. The law will only make the rampant racial profiling of Latinos in Arizona worse than ever.

We are hardly the only group to raise concerns about the situation in Arizona — nor will we be the last. But in all the controversy and outrage over the political implications of this law, it’s important to remember the human toll that it will have on real people every day who will be its victims.

The racial profiling sure to result from the Arizona law will mean that people — citizens and noncitizens alike — will be harassed and discriminated against as they simply try to live their lives and take care of their families. People will be wrongfully detained and deported. And as we have seen with other local law enforcement of immigration laws, once someone is caught up in the web of law enforcement, it’s hard to find one’s way out — even if someone is in the country legally. Families sometimes never find out what has become of their loved ones, and those who are detained often are quickly forced or pressured to leave the U.S. Whether they are 85 or 13, they can be jailed for days, weeks, months, sometimes years, put on a prison bus and dropped off across the border. This is not how we should treat human beings.

The Arizona law will also alienate law enforcement from the communities they serve, eroding the trust necessary for police to keep neighborhoods safe. It will discourage people from turning to the police when they need to, even to report crimes. It will undermine public safety by diverting scarce security resources away from legitimate law enforcement and focus them on false threats from people who look or sound “suspicious.” It will lead to mass incarceration, racial profiling and deportations. The ACLU has heard too many stories of brown-skinned U.S. citizens and legal residents who have been locked up for months or illegally deported for no valid reason.

Once we get past all the political controversy, what we are looking at is a human tragedy. This is not what America’s about, and we must do better.